ALAN v21n2 - Using Literature and Technology To Relieve Adolescent Problems

Volume 21, Number 2
Winter 1994

Using Literature and Technology To Relieve Adolescent Problems

Sharon Hurwitz

Adolescence is a time of changing. Young people find themselves going through significant physical, psychological, and social changes -- changes that many do not want to go through. Many have short attention spans and are bored easily. They have questions of self worth and future direction. In addition to their own problems, they are at an age when many must start taking positions of responsibility within the family because of family problems. In today's society, it is not unusual for a woman to be the sole head of the family or a male to be the emotional supporter in the family. And then there are the all-important peer pressures.

We, as teachers, have an opportunity and a responsibility to help young people work through some of their problems. We may not be willing, or prepared, to become their psychological advisor, but we can offer them adolescent literature that will fit their special problems and through which they can see that decisions are not always black and white but are determined by various actions. Through literature we can offer them experiences that will force them to assess situations and hone their decision-making skills. But using technology can provide another way to address those problems. Students can take what they have read, internalize it, and present it in a format that will allow them to help other adolescents. Doing so will in turn build their own self-concept and reinforce the relevance of the subject.

In the sophomore language arts curriculum at Bethel High School, we have a unit called "Pressures." I have taken this unit and adapted it to integrate the use of technology with the reading of adolescent literature. Students identify an adolescent problem they wish to investigate and then work in groups based on their selection.

There are two versions of my unit, based on the level of the students and their experience with technology. In the first version, which is more suitable for less-technology-experienced students, they read a YA book that deals with the problem and then work in groups to design and create a book mark based on the novel. They use PageMaker software to turn their page sideways and create four columns so they can put four copies of their book mark on one page. The minimum requirements for the book mark include having a description of the problem, some connection between the book and the problem (it could be how the character faces the problem or solves the problem), the title and author of the book, the names of the group members creating the book mark, and a graphic that ties everything together. The book marks are then printed on the laser printer using card stock paper. We print enough copies of each book mark that each group member gets one. I also get several; and we give several to the librarian who keeps them at the circulation desk to give to any student who checks out a book and wants one. Having them in the library gives recognition to the students who created the book mark. Availability of the book marks also provides possible information about a problem and a book dealing with that problem to students who would like to read it but may not want to go to a counselor and admit to having the problem.

The second version takes longer and is for the more-advanced student. Again students identify an adolescent problem they wish to investigate and work in groups reading a variety of books about the problem. They conduct research using sound filmstrips, Dialog, videotapes, on-line encyclopedia, Newsbank, and electronic card catalogue as well as traditional print resources. They interview social workers and our student assistance coordinator.

After gathering extensive information, students work collaboratively in our computer lab of fifteen Macintosh computers, two Imagewriter printers, and one Laserwriter II printer. They create an individual book mark about the book they read. They also create a group pamphlet about the problem. They use Microsoft Works, PageMaker, Wet Paint Clip Art, and Art Roundup. Some use the scanner to digitize pictures for the pamphlet.

Minimum requirements for the pamphlet are that each one has to include research and statistics about the problem, some possible solutions for the problem, and local phone numbers that students can call to get additional help. They also have to include the names of the books they read that can be checked out of the library to get further insight. And they must include the names of the group members.

The pamphlet is printed on colored paper. Students may create a bi-fold or tri-fold pamphlet by using PageMaker to turn the page sideways and choosing either two columns or three columns for the text layout. It is then printed in multiple copies and is distributed to students from the guidance office, the library, the Nurse's office, and the office of the Student Assistance Coordinator. Whenever a student comes in with a problem, he or she can freely pick up a pamphlet to read.

This year we have added a new dimension to the program. Since many students have become so adept at creating hypercard stacks, they have started one on adolescent literature. Each card summarizes a book that one of the students has read and rates it on a 1- 4 scale based on criteria we established in class. We have a variety of categories, one of which is the Virginia Young Readers Program and one of which is adolescent problems. Students create cards for each book they read and copy it into their own personal file as well as our school file of hypercard stacks.

This unit is particularly satisfying for me to teach because students gain so much from it. They are actively engaged as learners who tackle personally meaningful topics that they choose. They plan their own research using a variety of technological tools. They collaborate to gather, analyze, and integrate the information that they decide is relevant to their topic. They produce a finished product that is used for a real-world audience and which continues to give them recognition throughout their years in high school. Every student can be engaged in this project and feel good about the final products.

Sharon Hurwitz teaches English and serves as technology facilitator at Bethel High School in Hampton, Virginia.